Battle of the media ecosystems: Amazon, Apple, Google and Microsoft

Four large tech ecosystems are currently vying for our attention -- and for our dollars. How well are they succeeding?

Once upon a time, tech behemoths such as Microsoft and Apple battled to persuade businesses and consumers to purchase their computers, mobile devices or software packages.

Those days seem so quaint now.

Today, the battle is on a much larger scale. It is a war between vast ecosystems made up of hardware, software and online services, not just individual pieces of hardware and software. Purchase an iPhone, for example, and you're buying into the entire Apple ecosystem, including operating systems, apps, add-ons, music, movies, books and more. The big money isn't in your single purchase, but in encouraging you to purchase only products and services that interact with each other -- and your wallet.

With BYOD on the rise and our personal and professional lives becoming increasingly intermixed, an individual's choice to buy into one of these ecosystems affects her business use, and vice versa. And while many of us function in two or more of these ecosystems, others increasingly depend on a single system for both personal and business needs.

There are new players in this game as well. Now it's not just Apple and Microsoft, but also Amazon and Google and a host of specialists. Each offers a vast array of products -- and because there are strong differences between them, each offers distinct advantages and disadvantages, depending on which part of the ecosystem you're examining.

For example, Google and Amazon aren't hardware heavy hitters (although Google is indirectly involved in hardware through its Android mobile OS), while Apple and Microsoft are relatively weaker in shopping. Microsoft is strong in gaming, while Amazon rules when it comes to books. But one way or another, they're all locked in a death match.

In this article, we examine four of the largest technological media ecosystems -- Amazon, Apple, Google and Microsoft -- in terms of a variety of media: reading materials (books and magazines), gaming, music, shopping and video, as well as other areas. We also assess each ecosystem in terms of how well it works as a unified whole -- in other words, how smoothly each part of the ecosystem works with all the other parts.

To do this, we've enlisted three writers who have a great deal of experience in covering these ecosystems and reviewing their products: JR Raphael on Google, Michael deAgonia on Apple, and Preston Gralla on Amazon and Microsoft. (Gralla also wrote the introductions and conclusion.).

How do these huge ecosystems compare when it comes to the media marketplace? Let's see.

4 tech ecosystems: The basics

Company Year founded Founders Current CEO Financial info HQ
Amazon 1995 Jeff Bezos Jeff Bezos AMZN Seattle, WA
Apple 1976 Steve Jobs, Ronald Wayne and Steve Wozniak Tim Cook AAPL Cupertino, CA
Google 1998 Larry Page and Sergey Brin Larry Page GOOG Mountain View, CA
Microsoft 1975 Paul Allen and Bill Gates Steve Ballmer MSFT Redmond, WA
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